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In May 2012, a three-judge
panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit held that the
definition of "marriage" set forth in Section 3 of the Defense of
Marriage Act ("DOMA") does not pass constitutional muster. If the
decision is upheld by the Supreme Court, repercussions (and confusion) could be
Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") defines marriage as
In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation,
or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the
United States, the word "marriage" means only a legal union between
one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to
a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.
The decision arises out of two companion cases, Gill v. Office of Personnel
Management, and Massachusetts v. United States HHS. In Gill,
seven same-sex couples married in Massachusetts and three surviving spouses of
such marriages brought suit under the Equal Protection Clause to enjoin federal
agencies and officials from enforcing DOMA to deprive the couples of federal
benefits available to opposite-sex married couples in Massachusetts. More
specifically, Gill challenged DOMA because it prevents:
The companion case brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts challenged
Section 3 as incompatible with the Spending Clause and the Tenth Amendment,
asserting the harm the Commonwealth would suffer if, based on DOMA, the federal
government revoked federal funding for programs tied to DOMA's opposite-sex
marriage definition, such as Massachusetts' state Medicaid program and
In Gill, the United States District Court for the District of
Massachusetts held that Section 3 violated the Equal Protection Clause; in the
companion case, the court agreed with the Commonwealth that Section 3 violated
the Spending Clause and the Tenth Amendment. In addition to declaring Section 3
unconstitutional, the lower court enjoined federal officials and agencies from
enforcing it, but stayed the injunctive relief pending appeals.
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